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Duluth City Council may consider project labor agreements

The Duluth City Council will consider an ordinance in the coming weeks that would require union-friendly language in contracts for large city construction projects.

The Duluth City Council will consider an ordinance in the coming weeks that would require union-friendly language in contracts for large city construction projects.

The ordinance would require a "project labor agreement" for any city project of $150,000 or more. The agreements necessitate that contractors and developers hire some local workers and pay their employees prevailing wages and benefits for work hours standard in the Duluth area, which is mostly unionized in construction.

The contractors or developers don't have to be union, but proponents said project labor agreements prevent strikes, pickets and lockouts on job sites, because everything is agreed to up front. A system for handling grievances also is included in the proposal, introduced at Thursdays' council agenda session by 4th District Councilor Garry Krause.

"A lot of this is to create peace, to create harmony," Krause said.

Similar provisions exist in St. Louis and Carlton counties' codes as well as many Iron Range and Twin Cities-area cities, Krause said. The idea to install project labor agreements in Duluth has been rumored for several months, but Krause said he has not heard one complaint from Twin Ports' developers.

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Representatives from the Duluth Building and Trades Council spoke at the meeting in favor of the ordinance, saying it promotes contractors hiring local workers. However, it was unclear Thursday whether the final ordinance will have a requirement that contractors hire a certain percentage of people from the Duluth area.

The exact language of the ordinance must be determined by the city attorney's office. Because it is a new ordinance, councilors would not be able to vote on it until Aug. 27, after two readings -- and probably much debate.

At Large Councilor Tim Little asked how, if the ordinance was in place, would it have affected the dispute at the city's $4.5 million sanitary overflow tank project near the Lakewalk. That almost didn't pass the City Council in April because the low bidder, Staab Construction Corp. of Marshfield, Wis., uses nonunion labor.

Little was told by union organizer Norm Voorhees that the Building and Construction Trades Council would not be picketing.

First District Councilor Laurie Johnson, a union representative, said that the agreements guarantee that the city will get high-quality work, on time and without labor disputes.

The tentative language presented Thursday states that contractors must provide detailed information to the city about their benefits and wages before being awarded a bid. Contractors that are not union shops would have to set up funds and provide benefits equal to union benefits.

The tentative language also says that all "craft employees" or skilled laborers must be union members. Union representatives also would be allowed access to the work site.

Krause, a master electrician, said Duluth has a reputation for being anti-

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development, and this ordinance will help alleviate that image. Developers will know what's expected of them going into a project and not be surprised by disagreements by the unions, he said.

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